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He watched the Koons 'balloon dog' fall and shatter ... and wants to buy the remains

The "balloon dog" sculpture, pictured, shortly after it shattered.
Cédric Boero
The "balloon dog" sculpture, pictured, shortly after it shattered.

Welcome to a new NPR series where we spotlight the people and things making headlines — and the stories behind them.


If we're being honest, the main character in this story is the woman who bumped into the pedestal holding the Jeff Koons "balloon dog" sculpture, sending it to its death on the floor at a Miami art fair last week.

But considering that was probably the most humiliating moment of her life, we're going to let her stay anonymous. And instead turn to the man who is trying to pick up the pieces. Literally.

This is one of the (remaining) versions of the balloon dog. The one that broke was a <em>lot</em> smaller.
Cindy Ord / Getty Images for Qatar Museums
/
Getty Images for Qatar Museums
This is one of the (remaining) versions of the balloon dog. The one that broke was a lot smaller.

Who is he? Artist and collector Stephen Gamson was pointing out the porcelain balloon dog to his friend when the whole thing went down.

  • "Just as I [was doing] that, the piece fell over and it shattered into a thousand pieces," he told NPR.
  • The sculpture, valued at $42,000, was on display at the booth of Bel-Air Fine Art at an exclusive preview event for Art Wynwood, a contemporary art fair. And as the crowd began to gather around the fresh shards, Gamson started filming. 
  • On his Instagram post, you can hear the idea forming in real time.
  • "If you want to sell the tail..." he can be heard saying as a gallery employee tries to sweep the mess into a dustpan.
  • What's the big deal? While the woman who bumped into the pedestal is probably doing her best to repress the memory, Gamson is loving the drama. He thinks the piece is well worth salvaging in its current state.

  • "I find value in it even when it's broken," Gamson told the Miami Herald. "To me, it's the story. It makes the art even more interesting."
  • Gamson, who calls himself an "art junkie," has been a collector since the tender age of 17. His attraction to the broken balloon dog makes sense when you consider what else he can find value in: "I also have gone dumpster diving for art, you know, places where I know famous artists have worked."
  • If he gets to buy the Koons crumbs, it won't be his only name brand item.
  • "I used to write letters to Keith Haring, and I became a pretty significant Keith Haring collector," he told NPR. 

  • Want more journalism on arts and culture? Listen to the Consider This episode on the surge in sales of romance novels


    What are people saying?

  • Gamson might be right that the balloon dog has a second life, A.D. In his Instagram video, you can hear a woman comment, "You see, that is the new art installation! Everything's art, isn't it?"
  • When Gamson approached an art advisor with Bel-Air Fine Art about buying the pieces, she laughed and replied, "For $15 million? Yeah," the Miami Herald reported. 
  • And what might Koons himself think? Considering it's happened before, he might not care that much. Another of his porcelain balloon dog sculptures was destroyed in 2016. His response? Shrug.
  • "It's a shame when anything like that happens, but, you know, it's just a porcelain plate," he told Page Six.
  • Koons sold a giant version of his balloon dog for $58.4 million in 2013, and then six years later, a rabbit sculpture of his sold for $91 million — setting a record for a living artist.
  • So the five-figure loss on this one probably won't shatter his world. Plus, it was insured.
  • Jeff Koons poses during a press preview of his exhibition "Lost in America" at Qatar Museums Gallery Al Riwaq in Doha in 2021.
    Cindy Ord / Getty Images for Qatar Museums
    /
    Getty Images for Qatar Museums
    Jeff Koons poses during a press preview of his exhibition "Lost in America" at Qatar Museums Gallery Al Riwaq in Doha in 2021.

    So, what now? OK, let's say the gallery actually comes up with a price for these pieces and lets Gamson have them. What is he going to do with a pile of broken blue porcelain?

  • "I was thinking I might put them in some sort of a plexi box with a plaque on them," he said. "They could be introduced into a piece of art that I create myself. There's a lot of options."
  • Learn more:

  • Read about Tyler James Hoare, an artist who made the San Francisco Bay the gallery for his sculptures
  • Read about the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which is pledging $125 million to arts and humanities organizations that focus on mass incarceration
  • Guess who is taking over as Louis Vuitton's men's creative director: Pharrell Williams
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.